Saturday, April 17, 2010

Shakesblogging: The Merry Wives of Windsor

What I love about this play: First of all, I love the slightly askant relationship it has with the history plays. It doesn’t quite fit into the histories’ chronology, but I like to think of it as an alternate ending – a sort of subversive mirror for Henry V, where the kings and nobles are the ones banished from the stage, and the tavern characters find a space where they can live and thrive. Windsor is above all expansive, a little suspicious of the court and of outsiders, but ultimately generous, even with ne’er-do-wells. I like the fact that Pistol and Mistress Quickly have parts in the fairy pageant in the final scene (and that Quickly, in her second turn as player-queen, gets to be the one to pronounce the final blessing on Windsor Castle – which suggests something rather interesting about the interdependence of ruler and subject). I don’t know that it’s a complete reversal of the power politics in the history plays – which incorporate, after all, plenty of challenges to top-down rule – but it’s certainly a world in which one can imagine all kinds of possibilities that are foreclosed in the histories.

And I adore Alice Ford and Margaret Page, who are the kind of women that I can easily imagine the heroines of the other comedies becoming when they are older: competent, witty, able to recognize and laugh at their own blind spots, and devoted to each other as much as they are to their husbands. It’s like having a glimpse of Rosalind and Celia, or Beatrice and Hero, at forty, and it’s lovely. It’s also nice to see middle-aged, middle-class women getting to do something interesting and fun.

We don’t see that much of Anne Page – unlike in the other comedies, the young lovers aren’t really the point – but she does have some nice moments in 3.4. I like her slightly skeptical attitude toward Fenton, as well as her reaction to the prospect of marrying Slender: “I had rather be set quick i’ the earth / And bowled to death with turnips.”

Favorite memory: Actually visiting Windsor for the first time. I’d been blithely writing away about how the final scene takes place literally in the shadow of Windsor Castle, but I hadn’t realized that the whole play does: it’s massive, it’s on a hill, it dwarfs the town. What’s cool is that it doesn’t dwarf the play; the court is mentioned now and again, and we see characters going and coming from there, but it’s always in the background, and it’s the ordinary lives that matter.


Susan said...

In the really bad literary history of the 30s and 40s, I remember a book that talked about women in early modern England as if Merry Wives was a guide to women's lives.

Then when I was doing my diss research, a friend who also worked on early 17th C court records and I went to see a production. All I remember was that we got all the jokes about 2 seconds before the rest of the audience. And in the theatre, that's a long time...

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I saw a brilliant production of this last summer in Los Gatos, CA. It was a community theater production, but it was amazing. I got my picture taken with the fellow playing Falstaff and for months it was my profile pic on Facebook. People kept asking, "who is that dude?" I would reply, "he's my hero." ;)

I like the idea of Merry Wives being a sort of alternate ending. That's a quite lovely idea, actually.

Renaissance Girl said...

This is the one Shakes play that I just don't GET. Like, I don't see what people think is funny. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but there it is.